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Apple loses NZ court fight over 'driPhone' trademark dispute

updated 09:00 am EST, Tue December 17, 2013

Trademark law requires Apple aggressively defend its marks

A small-time inventor in New Zealand has accomplished something Samsung has not: he has won against Apple in court. The case revolved around Hayden Crowther's use of the name "driPhone" for his line of waterproof phone cases. Apple, obligated by trademark law to "aggressively" protect its trademarks or risk losing them, sued over the concern that consumers would think the cases were an Apple product. A New Zealand court disagreed.

In the decision, the iPhone maker was ordered to pay Crowther's costs for defending himself in the suit -- a typical result in non-US cases of this nature. Apple likely wasn't overly concerned about Crowther's attempt to trademark "driPhone" but was compelled to make a case to prevent the term "iPhone" from becoming a generic term for "premium smartphone" so that it can show attempts to defend the trademark when bringing up future, more appropriate cases, reports Fortune.

The guidelines requiring "vigorous" defense of trademarks stems from the case of Domino Sugar, which didn't object when Domino's Pizza first started using the name when it began in 1960. It wasn't until 1975 that parent company Amstar sued Domino's, which by then had expanded to over 200 stores. The federal Appeals Court found that Domino Sugar had not defended its trademark earlier, and ruled that it lost the right to claim consumer confusion over the term.

Since then, Apple and other companies have had to fight an expensive legal war to prevent their brand names from becoming generic. The use of the term "Kleenex" meaning any sort of facial tissue, "Xerox" meaning to copy something or (predominately in the south) "Coke" as a name for any sort of soda pop are examples of fights that were lost. The term "iPhone" taken to mean any sort of upscale smartphone (and "iPad" to mean "tablet") has already been heard and witnessed numerous times by MacNN staffers and (presumably bemused) rival brand retail personnel, thus explaining Apple's interest in challenging penny-ante uses of similar names as with the driPhone case.

Helping Crowther was the fact that several New Zealand brand names incorporate the spelling "dri" into their brands of waterproof clothing. Were his company to attempt to sell the "driPhone" brand elsewhere, such as the US, he would likely see a renewed legal challenge from Apple on the grounds that the name is deliberately riding on the iPhone's coattails in name recognition, since "dri" isn't a common spelling connoting "dry" in North America and elsewhere.

by MacNN Staff



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